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Sturgeon says The Vow 'not delivered'

Wounds reopen over Smith’s new powers for Scotland

Lord SmithFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney reopened a political rift with the unionists yesterday by claiming Lord Smith’s proposals for giving Holyrood greater control over its budget does not deliver on the Vow pledged by the main Westminster parties.

Lord Smith (pictured) outlined what he called the biggest transfer of power to the Scottish parliament since it was established and called for an end to political in-fighting between Holyrood and Westminster.

But at a media briefing at the parliament, Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney, claimed the package of proposals fell short of the promises made.

Asked if she thought the Vow – a list of pledges – had been delivered, Ms Sturgeon said: “No, I don’t.” She went to say that even the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which was not a supporter of the SNP, felt that it fell short of the The Vow.

Speaking after Lord Smith announced his recommendations, she said: “It is not me who will be the arbiter. It is the Scottish public. They will decide. We are in the court of public opinion and the people will be the judge.”

She said that if the tipping point between Home Rule and Westminster rule was control of tax, then this “did not get close”. Scotland would still control less than half its taxes.

Mr Swinney said that those who believed in the Vow thought that it would deliver everything apart from defence and foreign affairs but that had not happened.

Lord Smith’s eagerly-awaited report confirmed that Holyrood will get greater control over income tax and welfare. It also gave more powers over employment, transport, energy efficiency, fuel poverty and onshore oil and gas receipts.

Assuming the recommendations are agreed, income tax rates and thresholds will be determined by Holyrood, but it will otherwise remain a “shared” tax with Westminster. Further details on how it will work are yet to be finalised.

In a slightly surprising move, the Smith Commission also proposes that 10% of VAT receipts be retained by Holyrood. Scotland will also get more borrowing powers – to be agreed with Westminster – to ensure financial stability.

There will be stronger input into competition issues, a board member of the telecoms watchdog Ofcom and more controls over fracking. In a move that will be especially welcomed by Labour there will be a power to allow public sector operators to bid for rail franchises.

More predictable was the transfer of air passenger duty which the airlines and airports have campaigned against because of the impact it has on ticket prices.

But most levies, including fuel and excise duties, capital gains tax , inheritance tax, corporation tax and national insurance remain reserved matters, as does the taxation of oil and gas receipts.

Lord Smith, presenting the Commission’s report at the National Museum of Scotland, said that the “biggest transfer of powers to the Scottish parliament since it was established” also demanded a “corresponding increase in the parliament’s accountability and responsibility”.

He added: “This agreement is, in itself, an unprecedented achievement. It demanded compromise from all of the parties. In some cases that meant moving to devolve greater powers than they had previously committed to, while for other parties it meant accepting the outcome would fall short of their ultimate ambitions. It shows that, however difficult, our political leaders can come together, work together, and reach agreement with one another.”

One issue that had arisen during consultations he said was “weak inter-governmental working” and he demanded that the Scottish and Westminster governments work better together “to create a more productive, robust, visible and transparent relationship.”

He wants Ms Sturgeon and David Cameron, the Prime Minister to meet early next year to develop a new working partnership.

But there was little sign of true compromise immediately after he spoke. Speaking on the same platform, Mr Swinney, who is also the Finance Secretary,  welcomed the new powers, but regretted that national insurance and corporation tax were not transferred and said Holyrood had been denied the powers to properly tackle poverty.

Michael Moore for the LibDems described the package as representing “Home Rule” for Scotland, while Annabel Goldie for the Tories said it moved Scottish politics on from the debate over the constitution.

 



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